After a final frantic day of preparations Sutter’s cattle drive gets underway. The posse take up their assigned positions: right at the back.Swing, Flank, and Drag
The Lazy S riders are split between riding point, swing, and flank. The point riders are the most experienced hands outside the trail boss. They have the coveted spot at the head of the herd and keep the lead steers headed in the right direction. They also set the pace for the drive. Luke Canton is almost always assigned to one of the point positions. Swing men ride in pairs, one on each side about a third of the way back along the herd, and keep things moving. The flank riders are usually positioned in a pair about two-thirds of the way back and are responsible for wrangling in cattle that drift off to one side or the other of the main body. As the least experienced, the posse is given the job of “riding drag” on the drive which means they follow directly behind it. Drag riders are responsible for picking up any stragglers and driving the slower cattle at the herd’s pace. They also get to breathe the dust and flatulence of several thousand cows and beeves, so it’s pretty much the bottom of the totem pole on the drive. There’s another reason Sutter places the heroes in the drag position. It’s the most likely direction for Indian raiders, rustlers, or outlaws to strike the herd, as they can often get in and back out before the rest of the crew even realizes an attack is underway. Sutter’s hands may know cattle, but they’re not necessarily seasoned gunhands. The rancher is banking that at least a few of the posse are—that’s why he hired them, after all!
As well as all those cows there’s also a small herd of horses, known as the remuda. Each cowboy has a string of five or six remounts, some of which may be specialised horses with specific traits for specific jobs, which adds up to several dozen horses under the care of Sutter’s niece Abby. During the day they’re usually near the chuck wagon, and at night they’re in a rope corral near the camp.
Speaking of the chuck wagon, this is the domain of Javier Ortega, a former mexican soldier and the cook of the Lazy S. The chuck wagon is a marvel of ingenuity and organisation, with cubbies holding everything from salt and lard to tobacco and castor oil. The “boot” under the wagon holds skillets, pans, and Ortega’s prized dutch oven.
Ortega pulls the longest days of anyone in the Lazy S, up before the dawn to prepare breakfast, driving his wagon ahead of the herd to set up camp, and only turning in once the last hands have been fed and have bedded down for the night. His last job is always to point the wagon tongue at the North star, to orient the herd in the morning in case the sky is overcast.
Ortega’s cuisine runs heavily to beans. On rare occasions there might possibly be a bit of meat in there too, but mostly it’s beans. They’re nutritious, tasty, relatively easy to transport and prepare; what’s not to like? Weeks down the line this will lead to the posse spending their own money on a variety of non-bean ingredients for Javier to use.
A few days into the journey, with Sutter and Luke Canton away scouting the next waterhole, Bayou Vermilion and Black Dog make their first attack. Black Dog supports the attack with his fear power and by sniping with his Winchester, while Bayou Vermilion gun thugs attack the camp. Some of the gunmen seem a little unusual though, and when they come close enough to be seen a wave of panic runs through the defenders. Bayou Vermilion’s shock troops are reanimated corpses! This causes some disquiet to our heroes as well as the Lazy S trail hands: after the fight it’s seen that an inch wide streak of Martin Chavez’s jet black hair, running back from his temple, has turned stark white. This adds to his already unsettling appearance, what with the scar and the killer’s eyes, to make him quite intimidating.
The Lazy S cowboys take some casualties and our heroes take a couple of wounds, but the Bayou Vermilion gunmen are eventually driven off. The zombies know no fear and so have to be gunned down one by one, and Black Dog vanishes without a trace, without even leaving tracks. One of the Lazy S cowboys distinguishes himself by making a spectacularly successful shot during the fight, becoming known as Dead Eye Pete (and getting his own character token and everything!)
Sutter and Canton rejoin the cattle drive with bad news: there’s a long dry spell ahead. Ben Blanco starts to develop suspicions about Sutter in the recesses of his whisky-soaked mind, as he’s now been absent for two gunfights with Bayou Vermilion.
The cattle drive pushes on, across a parched land, with the few watering holes little more than mud puddles. They rewater at the well of an abandoned house, locked from the inside with no occupants to be found and the remains of a meal still on the table. It’s unsettling, but no explanation is found. Pushing on, travelling at night when it’s cooler, with water rationed and the cattle thirsty, the Lazy S drive reaches a tributary of the Colorado river. Our heroes have a lot of trouble controlling the water-maddened cattle, but eventually reach the river without the herd stampeding. While shepherding the cows across though, the party are surprised by a mass of deadly water moccasins. They suspect the hand of Black Dog at work, especially as the reverend seems unable to reach them with beast friend, but Eli is able to call on the Lord in other ways, helping to separate the snakes from the posse and avoiding any fatalities.
The cattle drive pushes on, towards Roswell, New Mexico, where Sutter has hopes of selling his cows to the Confederate army.